West Sussex County Council Leader Louise Goldsmith has met representatives of anti-fracking groups after a small protest camp was set up on a lawn at County Hall, Chichester.
The group raised a series of issues about fracking and also the decision to seek a possession order to remove people camping on verges on the B2036 London Road at Balcombe, taken on road safety grounds.
“I believe in local democracy, and people’s right to protest lawfully,” said cllr Goldsmith.
“That’s why I agreed to the meeting.
“We had a very constructive exchange of views, and it is clear there is a need for a national debate on this issue.
“The county council did debate fracking at its last meeting and, as a result of a notice of motion approved by members, I wrote to all our West Sussex MPs on November 7 and copied that letter to David Cameron.”
Letter to David Cameron
The letter said: “The motion adopted by the council highlights the need for an evidence based public debate held at a national level about the facts around hydraulic fracturing.
“Members felt that, to have the necessary status and credibility, this debate should be led by leaders in Government. They are concerned that, at present, the various agencies with responsibilities for energy, environment, public health and planning do not appear to be acting in a joined up manner and, as a result, the public are left confused about who is responsible for what and how to influence those bodies. This leaves the debate open to be led by those who take more uncompromising positions. Given its significance in relation to the economy and future energy security its seems to us to be wrong to leave it in this way.
“The county council can, and would be more than happy, to usefully contribute to the work needed, but we would urge you to take forward this proposal as soon as possible.”
Cllr Goldsmith said she will write to the prime minister again, as a result of today’s meeting.
“I would stress again that the only reason we went to the High Court for a possession order for our verges was highway safety for all road users.
“We have recognised people’s right to protest and that is the reason why a designated area has been set-up close to the entrance to the Cuadrilla site, which people can use, but camping will not be permitted.”
The group attending today’s meeting included representatives of anti-fracking groups from Balcombe, Wisborough Green, and Fernhurst as well as the people camped outside County Hall.
Cllr Goldsmith said: “Today’s conversation has produced a number of positive outcomes, and we all have a closer understanding of the views of some people in our local communities.
“We have agreed to meet the same group again in December when we will discuss how best to facilitate a wider event to look at all aspects of fracking. This would also include those in favour of this method as well as technical experts from both sides of the argument.
“I hope we made the point clearly that as a planning authority, we have to be independent and impartial when dealing with any application for planning permission. It would be wrong to pre-judge any application, and these have to be dealt with on their merits.
“I now hope that the people who have been camped outside County Hall since Saturday, will soon leave our property. They are immediately outside a building which is not only used by the council, but also hired out to the public.
“We want an end to that disruption as soon as possible, but must stress that it has been business as usual across the whole of the County Council and its services.”
Cllr Goldsmith was accompanied by Tony Kershaw, the council’s head of law and governance, and Sean Ruth, county fire officer, who leads on community engagement issues and road safety for the authority.